Porcello is 20, one year removed from Class-A Lakeland, two years removed from Seton Hall Prep School in New Jersey. He was slated to start this season in Double-A, but
"He's an awfully young man," Leyland said. "An arm like that, you're very conscientious to take care of it as well as you can. I won't overtax him. He'll be pitching long after I'm covered up."
Porcello hated missing the time, but now that he has inserted himself back into the American League Rookie of the Year conversation, he sees the value in it. "Skip gave me the rest before the All-Star break so I'd stay strong," Porcello said. "It worked."
Porcello had an opportunity to refresh both his arm and his approach. Early in the season, he relied heavily on his sinker and used his vaunted four-seamer mainly just to back hitters off the plate. But in the past month, he has gained confidence in the fastball. "Now he's using it to get outs," Laird said. "Righties are looking for the sinker and he's throwing them the four-seamer away."
Porcello's heat is the main reason he was among the most coveted prospects heading into the 2007 draft. The Tigers, picking 27th, believed they had no shot at him. But Porcello was represented at the time by
The Tigers took Porcello and signed him to a four-year deal worth $7.3 million. It was the richest contract ever given to a high school player taken in the draft, but Porcello is a bargain compared to Bonderman, Robertson and Willis, who are under contracts paying them a total of $88 million. Big-market teams most notably demonstrate their might through free agency, but they also possess an essential advantage in the draft, where they can pay a premium for players like Porcello while small-market teams are generally more reluctant.
When Porcello arrived at spring training this year, he was already a headliner and veterans lined up to check out his bullpen sessions. "He's one of the guys I wanted to catch," Laird said. "Did I think he was ready? I don't know. But the stuff was there." Laird was more concerned about Porcello's poise, his tendency to rush pitches and compound mistakes when he found himself in jams.
If Porcello wanted to win over the clubhouse, he scored all the points he needed August 11 in Boston, when he hit Red Sox slugger
The Tigers do not like to address the brawl, or the respect Porcello gained from it, but they acknowledge that he has matured in a myriad of ways this summer. "He's a different guy," Laird said. "When he gives up a couple hits, he steps off, takes a deep breath, slows down a bit."
He may need to take plenty of deep breaths a couple weeks from now. The Tigers are in first place in the American League Central by 2 1/2 games, and if they hold on, they will head into the postseason with a rotation headed by